[su_quote cite=”Chief Seattle”]All things share the same breath – the beast, the tree, the man. The air shares its spirit with all the life it supports.[/su_quote]
Twenty people gathered on a Sunday night in Seattle for a breathwork ceremony. Many were new to the experience and approached with curiosity, perhaps imagining a relaxed hour of mindful breathing, or something similar to pranayama (breath control) techniques they have been taught in a yoga class. As one participant shared, “I didn’t expect much – it was just breathing, right?”
The group was welcomed with a centering meditation and introductions, followed by a description of the simple, deep breathing technique that would be engaged for seventy-five minutes. While each breathwork “journey” is unique, possibilities of what one might experience are offered, including: tears; uncontrollable laughter; cramping muscles; ecstatic bliss; insights and revelations; cathartic emotional release; deep relaxation; altered states of consciousness; visions; creative inspirations and ideas; strong physical sensations. The possibilities of experience with this work are vast and the group is encouraged to engage with “beginner’s mind,” opening in full presence to each inhalation and allowing the breath to guide the journey, meeting whatever arises as an observer, without attachment or aversion.
The participants recline in shavasana. The lights go out. The music starts. The breathing begins.
[su_quote]The first sensation I experienced was a whole body vibration, there is no other way to describe it. It was grounding and humbling, frightening and extremely powerful – there was no sense that it could be controlled, nor did I try. Breathing. Clearly the vibration was in me – but it did not belong to me, it was borrowed from the energy of the room, the music, my breath and the universe. Breathing. My belly clenched, my heart raced – or did it? I couldn’t tell, and I didn’t care…this was life, the breath of life! Something was beginning, something so much larger than myself, yet taking place inside my body – a body I was becoming less and less attached to, yet more and more aware of….[/su_quote]
Holy Spirit – Agia Pneuma – also means Holy Breath, and many of the great spiritual and wisdom traditions identify the breath as a bridge between the individual and the universal. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika claims breath as “the key to ultimate emancipation,” and in John 20:22 of the Bible, Jesus “breathed on [the apostles], and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost,” a reference potentially inferring that to experience the breath is to experience the Holy Spirit. Kabir, the great Indian mystic and poet, wrote: “Student, tell me, what is God? He is the breath inside the breath.” The breath has been held as the gateway to great mystery for millennia, and breathwork offers the possibility for the most intimate communion.
[su_quote cite=”Rumi”]But how can something as simple as deep breathing result in what some have described as the most intense, transformative experience of their life? What’s the unique alchemical magic that allows a group of twenty people to come together and share in this type of profound healing and awakening experience? “There is one way of breathing that is shameful and constricted. Then, there’s another way: a breath of love that takes you all the way to infinity.[/su_quote]
Shallow breathing is often the result of stress and emotional repression, or more specifically, experiences of emotional difficulty that cannot be fully processed in the present moment. In a response to feeling overwhelmed, a typical response is to contract and shut down (the flight response of the sympathetic nervous system), restricting the breath and flow of vital lifeforce energy (prana). For significant traumas, especially those encountered as a child when the capacities to understand and process them are not yet developed, whole sections of one’s energetic grid can go “off line.” These become areas of the unconscious as adults – the shadows that are only known by the symptoms they produce.
In a process of reclaiming the fullness of the breath, lifeforce energy that was previously held hostage in contraction is made available and the natural, innate state of being is restored. It is not a process of becoming something other than you are, but rather a process of remembering and reclaiming the true nature of your Being. As the natural state is restored, the by-products of experience include greater physical vitality and well-being, healing capacity (of physical and emotional/psychological ailments), creative flow and inspiration, heightened awareness and clarity of thinking, and ultimately, awakening, and liberation from the conditioning of the world.
[su_quote cite=”Ramana Maharshi”]Your own self-realization is the greatest service you can render the world.[/su_quote]
The gifts of doing this work of healing and communion – in community – are profound. When one person heals the wounds within, they support everyone in the room (and beyond) bring healing and consciousness to patterns of a similar frequency. One person’s expression of grief might be the catalyst for the repressed grief in another to be seen, honored, and released. Especially in the West, the degree of repression and suppression is heartbreaking. Due to cultural and familial conditioning, children and adults alike hold back their tears, their anger, their grief, and even their exuberant joy! Many don’t feel equipped or safe to speak the truth of their experience for fear of shame, ridicule, persecution, isolation, and abandonment, and the result is fragmentation and disconnection. Without safe containers to heal, integrate, and process the experiences of life, individuals and communities suffer.
While the breathwork ceremony experience is quite personal and there is no interaction with others beyond an optional sharing circle at the end, the room of twenty strangers becomes an amplified healing field in which profound shifts can happen. What might not have been possible to access as an individual can be brought to the surface by the energetic reflection of the group. The gift is one of healing the deepest wounds and isolation within, and in doing so, reclaiming our capacity to live in the full expression of our Being – in peace, creativity, connectivity, and love.
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